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Engineer's take on sustainable construction goes against the green

The race for green certification of new commercial buildings is more style than substance, according to engineer Joseph Lstiburek of Building Science Corp. in Boston.

BY RICHARD MIZE Published: October 2, 2010
They miss the point of how critical energy efficiency is and the significance of the building shell,” Parker said. "I think Joe's comments all come down to this: If you don't get the enclosure right or your building is an energy hog, you shouldn't really call it a green building. We guide project teams on this critical aspect so the green buildings in Oklahoma will not become bad examples. Green is a journey, and we just aren't there yet in commercial buildings.”

Lstiburek, whose firm includes architects and who is married to an architect, called out architects for persisting with "colossally stupid” designs that offset advances in mechanical engineering that, at best, have most green buildings breaking even on efficiency.

Window problems
Take windows. Take them away. Architectural designs heavy on windows — more than 30 percent of a building's exterior — make most green efforts in a building moot, he said.

Take "big holes” in buildings. Close them. Designs with "any hole you can crawl through” are designs with problems, he said.

Take ventilation. LEED, Lstiburek said, wants buildings to be too ventilated, spelling out a requirement 30 percent greater than what the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers recommends. Why? "Because of activists on the LEED committee that say everything in a building is unhealthy and sick” when it's not, he said.

Green takes time
Take time. Lstiburek said architects and engineers need to work closely together from the beginning of a design project, and drawings need to be especially detailed at points where walls meets floors and ceilings and around windows, where most problems with building efficiency lie — and where building plans are fuzziest.

Lstiburek's remarks were provocative, especially considering the popularity of LEED.

"I don't know if it's going to be received that well, but he made some points that needed to be made,” said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association.

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